The Measure of Happiness

Having the best stuff­– trophy partners, monster homes, luxury vehicles, state-of-the-art electronics, art, luxury vacations, expensive jewelry, and your own reality show –has become the cultural measure of happiness. You see it everywhere: in magazine advertising, television commercials, product placements in blockbuster movies, and in celebrity culture. Advertisers spend an estimated $500 billion dollars every year to convince us to spend ever more money on looking good, impressing others, and being on the “A” list. It is supposed to be the shopping list to a happy life.

In his book “The Fear of Freedom,” Erich Fromm describes the impact of this kind of conditioning: “Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows what he wants, while he actually wants what he is supposed to want.”

Is this pursuit of material wealth and celebrity making us happier as a society? I don't think so. As a matter of fact I think it's having the opposite effect.


 In 1972, the Fourth Dragon King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, conceived the idea of measuring “Gross National Happiness” (GNH). Based on Buddhist principles and values, it was designed to unify the emerging economy in Bhutan behind both spiritual and economic indicators.

Treating happiness as a measure of development was a radical idea. The President of the International Institute of Management, Med Jones, took GNH a step further and identified seven measures:

• Economic Wellness • Environmental Wellness • Physical Wellness • Mental Wellness • Workplace Wellness • Social Wellness • Political Wellness

These distinctions are useful in that they make an important connection between wellness and happiness. They also uncover a much larger framework for the development of happiness beyond just wealth, sex appeal, and social status.

The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, developed in the 1980’s at Oxford Brookes University, builds on this view by providing personal measures of happiness. These include: optimism about the future, purpose, the feeling of rest, the ability to make decisions with ease, energy levels, frequency of laughter, relational satisfaction and wellness to name a few.

Our society needs to expand it's definition and understanding of what makes us happy. Our health and well-being depend on it.

© Patrick O’Neill 2013. All rights reserved.


Posted on February 22, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.